“I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.”
I stood in the doorway of our family room. My husband was eating chips. I had just put our children to bed.
“Ha, ha,” Jeff responded sarcastically. He was only halfway paying attention to me. The chip bag crinkled. The laugh track from the television carried through the room.
I stood silently and then leaned against the door frame.
“Babe,” my voice broke. He turned his eyes to me. I had his attention now.
“I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.”
I do not remember every day of my life but some days strike me with such clarity that I can re-create them – second by second – from recall. The day I knew that I would no longer practice law is one of those memories.
It was early fall. I was partner in a personal injury law firm. I sat in my large office. I stared at the mahogany furniture. I looked blankly at my computer. I could not muster the strength to open my email. I knew what awaited me inside. Demands. Complaints. Arguments. Personal attacks. More demands. More complaints. More arguments.
Email wasn’t just on my computer. It was on my phone. It was on my tablet. It was on the watch on my wrist. It was everywhere. Like a poison.
I had spent the better part of the day in a deposition of an infectious disease specialist at a hospital. I sat across from the doctor and asked him questions. I attacked his credibility. I attacked his credentials. I attacked his treatment of my client. I shoved medical records in his face. The disdain and sarcasm in my voice was palpable. The hate in his eyes for me – the lawyer – was undeniable.
I drove back to the office in the rain for two and a half hours. By the time I sat at my desk – all I could think of was how long it would be until I could have a drink. I craved the anti-anxiety medication on my bathroom counter. Feeling like I was going to have a heart attack was a daily occurrence. My left eye twitched uncontrollably. “Stress,” my primary care physician said.
I shut the laptop and walked to the middle of my office and closed the door. I looked at the wall of awards: “Top 40 Trial Attorney under 40”; “Outstanding New Lawyer”; “Top 2.5% of Attorneys in Illinois”. My name was even listed in a major Chicago publication as one of the “it” lawyers to watch. I laughed bitterly. The irony of my situation was not lost on me.
On paper, I was a “success.” I had a great career. I was married to a wonderful man and we had three beautiful children together. I was active in our community – strived to be perfectly dressed – and politically appropriate wherever I went. I attended professional events where people would tell me how “happy” I was and complimented my legal acumen and business savvy.
It was a lie. The whole thing was a lie.
I smiled. I shook hands. I did trials and won people lots of money. I argued with insurance companies and boasted of my success. But at home? I was wretched.
I drank and took medicine to sleep at night. My dreams were nightmares. Sometimes it took me hours to fall asleep – so I worked instead, a slave to the machine. I was rarely present for my family. While my children played, I checked email. When my husband wanted my attention, I worked on the computer. When anyone dared to cross me – they experienced my sharp tongue and vicious backlash.
I did not take a week of vacation for five years. I worked every weekend.
A few times, my anxiety manifested itself into panic attacks followed by deep depression. I never told a soul. My mother, husband and a close friend were the only witnesses to my suffering.
When Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story stated: “The law is a jealous mistress,” he wasn’t kidding. My mistress was very jealous and she demanded my complete attention – even at the expense of my family, my faith and my health.
However, God has a way of humbling you and he certainly humbled me. The one thing that had kept me going through the years was my faith. I prayed a lot. I asked for God’s help. His resounding response to my prayer was “quit.” Me, being a lawyer, chose to argue with God instead of accepting his loving judgment.
I mean seriously. I couldn’t quit being a lawyer. I used to rationalize staying in my horrible career because of my success, ability and the money. Also, leaving terrified me. What would I do? What would people say?
During this chapter of my life, I let fear govern me. I let fear make my decisions. For years, I chose to be afraid – instead of being brave. I allowed pride to lead my life – not my heart.
But then, on the day I stood in my office as it rained and I looked at my diplomas, I did something very unusual. I left the office and went for a walk. I left my phone on my desk and took nothing with me.
At first, I was just going to walk around the block to get some fresh air and clear my head. Then the sun came out. I kept walking. I walked for miles along a path that ran adjacent to a river. I kept walking until I crossed into a park in the next town over. I walked until the path looped in front of a magnificent tree. It was here – I stopped.
The Tree! Visit it for yourself at Mount St.Mary’s Park in St. Charles, Illinois.
I looked up at the tree and was overcome by its beauty. It was full and radiant. Its leaves were turning a rich sunset orange as the fall weather creeped in. I must have walked past this tree dozens of times before but I had never noticed it.
A peace came over me – and then a feeling of pure happiness. I knew in my heart that I was going to retire from the practice of law. Even better, I knew that it was going to be okay. I was done arguing with God. I was done arguing with myself. I was done – with fear.
So, that night, after I put our children to bed, I told my husband that I wanted to stop practicing law. I expected him to be furious – or at the very least – disappointed. Relief flooded me as he took me into his arms and told me how proud he was of me. He kissed the top of my head and said softly, “You should have done this years ago. I should have helped you to do it.”
Knowing that I had Jeff’s support – and unconditional love – made transitioning out of the practice of law much easier than I had expected. Actually, I was surprised at how simple it was to transfer my clients to different firms and wind up by business. Within a few months, the phone calls stopped and the emails ebbed.
I started sleeping soundly through the night and became present for my children. The twitching stopped and the only “sleep aid” I needed was milk, cookies and a good book. Jeff and I laughed a lot. We cooked together and I drank wine with my husband for pleasure – not to self-medicate. I started to write.
Lawyers are taught to follow the “letter of the law.” This means, we are to follow the literal translation of the rule of law with little interpretation. William Shakespeare offered that we should examine the spirit behind a law – not just the black and white words that appear on the page. In Shakespeare’s view, we are to examine the heart and purpose of a word – and not its strict application. These days, I prefer the bard’s interpretation.
It took me almost a year before I returned to work – this time at a children’s charity. Money was tight during this time – but contentment levels were high. Jeff and I continued to make decisions based upon what was healthy for our family instead of what we “should” be doing.
Looking back, I wish I had taken that walk years ago. But even now, I do not regret my legal career. Being a lawyer shaped me into the woman I am today. I will always carry a piece of that lawyer with me. However, I now walk without any fear of the future and what it holds.
Happiness is honoring yourself. When we pretend and put on a mask, we rot and bitterness sets in. Only by exposing ourselves and allowing our true hearts to show – can we find true happiness and (hopefully) leave our mark on the world.
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Walking in faith is easier said than done. It took me years before I let God take the lead. Exploring a relationship with Jesus yourself? Please connect with me using the form below. I’d love to hear your faith story.